US interrogates detainees in Yemen prisons rife with torture

2017-06-22 10:07
A man describes how his son was detained by Yemeni forces allied to the UAE. (Maad El Zikry, AP)

A man describes how his son was detained by Yemeni forces allied to the UAE. (Maad El Zikry, AP)

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Mukalla - Hundreds of men swept up in the hunt for al-Qaeda militants have disappeared into a secret network of prisons in southern Yemen where abuse is routine and torture extreme - including the "grill", in which the victim is tied to a spit like a roast and spun in a circle of fire, an Associated Press investigation has found.

Senior American defence officials acknowledged on Wednesday that US forces have been involved in interrogations of detainees in Yemen, but denied any participation in or knowledge of human rights abuses. Interrogating detainees who have been abused could violate international law, which prohibits complicity in torture.

The AP documented at least 18 clandestine lockups across southern Yemen run by the United Arab Emirates or by Yemeni forces created and trained by the Gulf nation, drawing on accounts from former detainees, families of prisoners, civil rights lawyers and Yemeni military officials.

All are either hidden or off limits to Yemen's government, which has been getting Emirati help in its civil war with rebels over the last two years.

The secret prisons are inside military bases, ports, an airport, private villas and even a nightclub. Some detainees have been flown to an Emirati base across the Red Sea in Eritrea, according to Yemen Interior Minister Hussein Arab and others.

Several US defence officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AP that American forces do participate in interrogations of detainees at locations in Yemen, provide questions for others to ask, and receive transcripts of interrogations from Emirati allies.

They said US senior military leaders were aware of allegations of torture at the prisons in Yemen, looked into them, but were satisfied that there had not been any abuse when US forces were present.

"We always adhere to the highest standards of personal and professional conduct," said chief Defence Department spokesperson Dana White when presented with AP's findings. "We would not turn a blind eye, because we are obligated to report any violations of human rights."

Up to 2 000 men 'missing'

Inside war-torn Yemen, however, lawyers and families say nearly 2 000 men have disappeared into the clandestine prisons, a number so high that it has triggered near-weekly protests among families seeking information about missing sons, brothers and fathers.

None of the dozens of people interviewed by AP contended that American interrogators were involved in the actual abuses. 

At one main detention complex at Riyan airport in the southern city of Mukalla, former inmates described being crammed into shipping containers smeared with faeces and blindfolded for weeks on end.

They said they were beaten, trussed up on the "grill," and sexually assaulted. According to a member of the Hadramawt Elite, a Yemeni security force set up by the UAE, American forces were at times only metres away. 

"We could hear the screams," said a former detainee held for six months at Riyan airport. "The entire place is gripped by fear. Almost everyone is sick, the rest are near death. Anyone who complains heads directly to the torture chamber."

He was flogged with wires, part of the frequent beatings inflicted by guards against all the detainees. He also said he was inside a metal shipping container when the guards lit a fire underneath to fill it with smoke.

The network of prisons echoes the secret detention facilities set up by the CIA to interrogate terrorism suspects in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. In 2009, then-president Barack Obama disbanded the so-called "black sites". The UAE network in war-torn Yemen was set up during the Obama administration and continues operating to this day.

Read more on:    cia  |  al-qaeda  |  uae  |  yemen  |  us

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